9 girls. 3 lessons. 2 days. 1 message.
I had more than one congregant tell me that my mission for my first girls-only youth group sleepover was to let these girl know how important it was that they wait to have sex until after they were married. According to the tip I received, this was the most important lesson I could teach them before they left our small county for college. ‘We have to teach them this is wrong or they will go down a dark path in college and leave the church.’
I have a dear friend in full-time ministry who has heard similar suggestions regarding Young-Earth Creationism. ‘This is the foundation of our faith,’ they say, ‘They must learn and understand this truth, otherwise, when they go to college they will learn evolution and leave the church.’
I absolutely, firmly, and completely believe that the intentions behind these suggestions are as genuine as the day is long. Anybody who has a vested interest in what I teach the girls in my youth group is welcome to make suggestions and offer critiques of what I teach. It means they care.
I also realize it is important for me to know what issues and temptations are pulling young students away from the church. I was a student myself not so very long ago – I remember the moments where I sat in a classroom and felt my understanding of God, His Word, and His Kingdom were shattered. Interestingly, the days I felt the most defensive of my faith were days we discussed non-salvation issues like creationism, the millennium, or gay marriage.
My concern these days is that we’ve made these issues I just mentioned into a Gospel that is somehow greater than that of Jesus Christ. Let me be clear - there is only one truth, one way to the Father, and it is not virginity, it is not a six-day creation, and it is definitely not anti-immigration laws.
When students go to university, they experience all kinds of arguments and conflicting ideas. That’s what university is all about. If we expect our students to go to university so that they can be further convinced of everything we taught them in Vacation Bible School, why do we bother sending them? The point is, college is meant to make us ask questions, help us navigate what we already know, and provide resources for new experiences. These are all part of growing up and naturally, they will include encountering ideas, beliefs, and thought processes that do not completely mold to what they learned in high school. This seems obvious.
So here is my struggle: if we know that students will be exposed to the slings and arrows of new ideas in college, what logic tells us that our response must be to pound home certain specific doctrines before they leave? Is it to ensure they don’t forget the ‘facts’? Is it to win an argument - as if each time we bring up creationism or millennialism before graduation is one more weight on the scale balancing faith and college? If we just put enough weights in the creationism tray or the abstinence tray, the college tray will never catch up and our kids will stay Christians, they’ll never have sex, they’ll never do drugs, and most importantly, they’ll stay in church.
Really? Since when did creation become the end-all-be-all for our faith? Since when did Christian students’ faith hinge on their ability to stay abstinent?
The answer is pretty simple, really: since their pastors, teachers, and mentors told them it did. Now that I’m in ministry with my husband, I have to include myself in these groups. WE told them that they had to believe in young-earth creationism to be ‘true’ Christians. WE told them they had to accept every page of the Left Behind series if they wanted to be saved. If they didn’t, they might as well just pack up and leave the church. And now it appears that they are.
Now, I admit, the battle over creation is my husband’s area of expertise. In college, my equivalent was, and probably in some ways still is, saving sex for marriage. I was one of those who believed that being a true Christian hinged on my being a virgin when I got married; anyone who didn’t wait until marriage was clearly not saved.
Looking back, all I can think is How dare I?
As if I had the handle on who was saved or who wasn’t.
Get over yourself College Casey.
Now do NOT get me wrong, I absolutely believe that pre-marital sex is a sin and that we ought to obey our Father’s commands even if we don’t want to or we do not understand them sometimes. I also maintain that it is the most physically and emotionally healthy choice to be abstinent until marriage. The research is ongoing, but I can no longer limit my answer to ‘because God said so’ when young women ask me ‘Why should I wait?’ - there have been too many studies and too many books written showing the extreme health risks for sexually active college students. And as a youth leader, I consider it my duty to share whatever research I can with my girls. I hope I can guide them fairly and compassionately. Also, there is a BIG difference between ‘falling for pre-marital sex’ and ‘falling for evolution’ as some might phrase it. Jesus does not ever tell us we cannot be Christians and believe in evolution; He does tell us that as Christians, we should not have sex before we’re married.
Regardless of whether our high school students give in to either of these popular university ideas, my helping them prepare for college must always remember that there is only one Gospel. There is no other most important message or absolutely necessary doctrine that will save them from the evil clutches of a college campus except that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and His shoulders are strong enough for whatever burden they bring to His cross.
Personally, I think if my girls know that truth by the time they graduate, then just maybe their faith will survive a one night stand and the intense guilt that can follow the next morning. Just maybe their first evolution lesson in Biology 101 won’t terrify them. Maybe when someone asks them a hard question about their faith, they’ll want to dig for an answer rather than throw in the towel at the first sign of conflict. Maybe they’ll learn that their biggest spiritual battle will never be against a history timeline that spans trillions of years, but against the little voice in their head shouting that they’re not good enough to be a Christian – that their actions no longer qualify them for the Kingdom. Once they’ve learned to silence that voice, I have achieved my primary mission as a youth leader. That is not just the most important Gospel, it is the only one I will teach.